Service Output, The Future For Co-Working Spaces

摘要: Compared with towering office buildings and incubators, co-working spaces as a new specie is working its way toward a new business model. From their perspective, company teams or individual workers expect more than just an office desk from co-working space.

(Chinese Version)

URWORK’s co-working space at Sunshine 100

URWORK’s co-working space at Sunshine 100

Gao Chao, former PR director of Uber China, has exited from Uber six months ago while Uber and Didi were still fighting each other’s sworn enemy in the market. From Dell, Amazon, to Uber China, with over 20 years of PR experience in the field Gao Chao had long felt the pressure in his career path. “No matter how powerful the company you are working in, it still doesn’t change the fact you are working for somebody else,” he said.

URWORK gave him the courage to make the final decision to leave the company. When he eventually joined URWORK and became the CMO, he also had another identity——the co-founder of Lilin Media——the media company that runs Youyan on WeChat. Just one month ago, his company raised the first round of financing. Mao Daqing is one of the investors.

If we were to say renting an apartment at the high-end community Huaqing Garden in Beijing for kickstarting a startup is a reflection of the last wave of mass entrepreneurship, then today renting an office desk at a co-working space has become the trend. URWORK’s founder Mao Daqing used the machine of work to define co-working space in his speech on the 2015 TMTpost’ T-EDGE Summit. “We tried to install all kinds of services and functions that boost our working efficiency on machines. We make them into working machines that can provide you with all the services needed to work better,” he said.

What Gao Chao means is that Lilin is like a plug-in to URWORK for brands that need PR and communication service. This convenience in fact appeals to one of my friends who’s marching in his entrepreneurial journey at co-working space WooSpace(established in 2015 and invested by Matrix Partners and Cyanhill Capital). “The co-working space I am at doesn’t provide such service yet,” he said.

Lilin communication platform, Gao Chao’s five-member team

Lilin communication platform, Gao Chao’s five-member team

Although co-working spaces that rely on charging rent for profiting are considered as wholesale-retail landlords, many individuals and startup teams that rent a place at a co-working space in fact expect more than just an office desk.

In Hangzhou, there is a famous celebrity hall where many Internet celebrities that are actually salesperson of some e-commerce companies and their companies base. It’s very common for companies, teams and individuals of the same of similar industry to gather together and form a cluster. Internet celebrities working for e-commerce companies need photographers, studios, and professional dressing rooms to do their business. In the past, they would have to buy or rent these stuff, but now with the cluster they are able to have access to these resources in a short time and reach them in a short distance.

Co-working spaces are the same. Besides fundamental infrastructures such as office desks, water and electricity supply, and Internet access etc., other services like finance and taxation, legal support, and even the social-networking platform co-working offices have are also essential resources that the clients need. So what pulls these things together?

The answer is quite obvious: Space.

More than just an office desk

The Sunshine 100 at the Guanghua Street in Beijing is the most popular spot for URWORK. The first thing you see when entering the space is a café. WooSpace has rented its place at the north of the Joy City in Chaoyang district to a café brand called Blanko. It’s apparent that after the craze for startup cafes has cooled down, it has become a habit for many people from the investment communities to have discussions on projects at a café.

Visitors only need to check in at the counter and then they could just find a couch and sit down. Nobody would ask them to leave. In one afternoon our journalist at TMTpost ran into Runnar’s co-founder Tian Tongsheng (a startup that TMTpost has reported before). “Mao Daqing and I had a meeting for five hours while running a marathon,” he shared with us a story at URWORK while he was waiting for his clients.

Tian Tongsheng’s team rented almost the entire second floor of URWORK. Tian Tongsheng himself is also a lecturer at a business school. In a hiking trip with Wang Shi, Tian met a crossroad that would shift the course of his life. In May 2015 he founded Runnar and cooperated with business giants through the outdoor exercise sector, kickstarting his sports event business and solutions.

Tian Tongsheng moves around the country for work. When he is finally back at the company, he is usually at the café in front of the company and has meetings with government officials, real estate developers and investors on cooperation. “I am used to rejections. Now Mao Daqing takes Xu Xiaoping directly to my company,” Tian Tongsheng said(Runnar has received investment from URWORK).

The main infrastructure of an office space is naturally all those independent office desks, meeting rooms and halls. Compared with WeWork that promotes open working space, this no doubt is more Chinese. “Will I lose my laptop if I put it here?” a guy wanting to rent an office desk asked the salesperson of the co-working space, a doubt that many people share.

Founded in July 2015, co-working space brand WooSpace is more about openness in space design. Based in an old warehouse left behind by a giant enterprise, 400 meters away from Joy City in the north, WooSpace has made the dusty warehouse a shiny co-working space with a special taste. The office desks at WooSpace are Northern-European style with pure white softcover alongside with wooden floor, making the co-working space truly shine and apart from the crowd. It looks to many people more of an independent book store.

“Of course, we will balance our direction when designing every space since Chinese people don’t really favor overly open space,” WooSpace’s founder Randy commented on some of the young clients’ demand for independent office desks.

One year since the founding, WooSpace has already launched seven co-working spaces. If you call up the customer service of WooSpace, if would find that you can rent an office at Wangjing South, Joy City in Chaoyang district, or Sanyuan Bridge. The price ranges from ¥1600 per person to ¥1850.

Wan Liushuo and Han Xinqi, co-founders of WooSpace

Wan Liushuo and Han Xinqi, co-founders of WooSpace

Wan Liushuo has his own design concept for co-working space. He hires a top designer from leading architect design studio OMA for cooperation. From his perspective, the tendency of future office culture would be about fluidity. His experience accumulated at the renowned consulting firm BCG confirms this idea of his. He revealed to TMTpost that most of his works at BCG were done at his clients’ office. He literally had stayed in the hotel for more than 250 days in one year. “I hadn’t even stayed at my office for five days. Many new colleagues didn’t even know me,” he said.

This phenomenon has actually become a common working style for young entrepreneurs and freelancers in China. WooSpace’s blue-cover report released one year after its launch shows:

“Currently the office space rental market mainly covers office towers, residential properties, incubators, and co-working spaces. In Beijing and Shanghai, the net rent of office towers in the Q2 has declined compared with the previous month. The average monthly rent of the 5A office towers around new CBDs such as YaAo and YiZhuang etc. is only about ¥260 per square meter.”

That said, in first-tier cities, compared with office towers, residential buidlings, and incubators, co-working space is a new breed of office space despite its similarities shared by its ancestors. In any case, It would become the better option.

What qualifies a better option while the price is quite the same?

URWORK aims to provide its clients with more than just office desks. “It could be a conference venue for free to use for once, or just a fancy lunch,” Gao Chao joked, explain that what really sets URWORK apart from the crowd is the added value. At present, URWORK can provide services such as meeting room booking, URWORK App that allows users to make reservation, LiLin that offers sales consultant service, and the coming up MICIFANG training program.

Wan Liushuo believes that providing better social networking is the added value of office space. When designing WooSpace, the designer fused the office desks, resting area, and communication area into one space to encourage the clients to have closer interaction or even make them become friends. “From the perspective of operation, we are more willing to host activities that are suited for Chinese people. We don’t do road shows or lectures. We host activities such as a KTV competition, pet competition etc.”

Designer-made WooSpace is seemingly fixing its shortcomings in spatial aesthetics and issues in profiting model. “At present, 70-80% of co-working spaces in China are losing money. We also want to maximize the number of the office desks we have. In the beginning the intensity was high.

However, by basing the design on the ratio of office desks and the space, everything becomes easier. We also make sure that the decoration cost would be the lowest in the industry and therefore every space has achieve a faster balance cycle of cost and income,” Wan Liushuo told TMTpost on the annual event of the company. It should be noted that four out of seven spaces WooSpace has launched are already making profit.

“We don’t make incubators”

“We don’t make incubators.” Mao Daqing has been making similar statements in the past six months openly. Compared with the original plan of making a startup accelerator, URWORK has apparently been adjusting and improving its position in the market.

He has reiterated for multiple times that Wan Liushuo from WooSpace doesn’t not make incubators either. According to Gao Chao, URWORK refused to be described by out-of-date terminologies for the fact that the extended services co-working spaces can offer are similar to startups. In other words, incubating startups is not in URWORK’s plan for profiting.

The forerunner of co-working space WeWork has opened its first space on July 1st in Shanghai in China. Our journalist Zhang Yuan at TMTpost has reported this change in hiss previous article, which tells the fact that many Chinese WeWorks have eventually become incubators, obviously a sign of going off the track of the co-working space culture. A source who has visited the Shanghai space revealed that most of the clients of Shanghai WeWork are American businessmen working in China instead of startups.

“I have been to San Francisco, Singapore, and London. I found that countries that aren’t shouting the mass entrepreneurship slogan are doing well in the co-working space sector,” Mao Daqing commented, telling us his feeling in the past six months.

On the contrary, it’s the excess capacity of commercial real estate industry that causes the fall of rent-out rate of commercial buildings in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, forcing real estate developers to find a way out in operation. As the freelance culture further develops and transforms, new operation models like URWORK, WooSpace and Nash Space have appeared alongside. The startup scene is only a stimulus. Whether co-working spaces and mobile offices can become matured in the future really depends on the transformation of office culture and the development one-person company culture.

“The standardization of operation and service of co-working spaces might be the ultimate form we have imagined,” Wan Liushuo said. Chain hotel created the most classic standardized service output in the business history. So, can the design and operation of co-working spaces become something similar?

On March 24th this year, Mao Daqing and Wan Liushuo stood together and announced that URWORK had participated in WooSpace’s A round financing through strategic investment cooperation. The Wanxiang Space alliance was also founded at that time.

Looking from the fact that URWORK has signed up for over 30 spaces, it seems URWORK is about to form its chain model. “This industry is too new. Many people are still trying to figure out what it is. So it’s hard to make a standardized product,” Gao Chao said.


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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @He Jing, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.




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